Monday, January 22, 2018

Top 20 Female Performances of 2017

As I said in my list of my favorite male performances of the year, I saw more great performances in 2017 than I did great movies. That is especially true of female performances, which is why I’ve cheated a little here, as a way of including more than 20. Enjoy!

20. Holly Hunter  The Big Sick
as Beth
Holly Hunter bleeds fearlessness and empowerment in everything she does. Beth was no exception. Hunter portrayed a mother carefully and angrily navigating her daughter’s illness with such brave honesty. 

19. Octavia Spencer  The Shape of Water
as Zelda
Octavia Spencer will not back down. Her characters have voices that demand to be heard. Watching Zelda help her best friend, Elisa (Sally Hawkins), pull off something absurd was one of the great cinema joys of 2017.

18. Michelle Pfeiffer  mother!
as Woman
Contrary to popular belief, there was some fun to be found in mother! Watching Michelle Pfeiffer glide from room to room with side eyes, impeccable shade, and dangerous stares was fun indeed. Pfeiffer’s still got it, now give her more.

17. Elisabeth Moss  The Square
as Anne
What I loved about Anne is that she was at times bewildered and at times bewildering. You never knew what emotional response she was going to throw at you, and I couldn’t get enough of it. 

16. Sienna Miller  The Lost City of Z
as Nina Fawcett
There’s a fine line between hope and delusion, and Miller toed it gracefully as Nina. I could watch a whole movie dedicated to her character in this film. I love the direction Miller has taken her career these past few years. More roles, please.

15. Hong Chau  Downsizing
as Ngoc Lan Tran
I hadn’t heard of Chau before she was nominated for a Golden Globe for her work in Downsizing, but after seeing the film, her nomination was clearly well earned. Ngoc Lan Tran is a farcical character, but one that was ultimately given so much depth. She’s easily one of my favorite characters Alexander Payne has penned yet.

14. Kristen Stewart  Personal Shopper
as Maureen
After a wonderfully assured supporting performance in Clouds of Sils Maria, Stewart was front and center in Personal Shopper. Maureen’s ever-evolving arc of confused, scared, angry and sad made for one hell of a compelling watch. The way she plays the film’s final scene made me wish the movie had kept going, all while knowing it ended exactly where it should.

13. Rooney Mara  A Ghost Story | Una | Song to Song
as M | Una | Faye
Few performers can crush us with a look quite like Rooney Mara. Of her 2017 work, she had the most to do in Una, but, sadly, that movie was barely seen. All told, these three performances were yet another reminder that Mara’s capacity for emotional expression is seemingly limitless

12. Saoirse Ronan & Laurie Metcalf  Lady Bird
as Lady Bird & Marion
I occasionally group performances together not because it’s convenient, but because each actor does their best work in that respective film when playing off each other. At least that is true of Metcalf in Lady Bird, whose Marion kept her family afloat through hard work and occasional frustration. Many of us have known that Ronan was force to be reckoned with since her turn in Atonement 10 years ago. She has only excelled since then, ultimately reaching her new peak as a performer as Lady Bird.

11.Tiffany Haddish  Girls Trip
as Dina
No performer made me laugh harder in 2017 than Tiffany Haddish. Haddish has been in the game for a long while, but damn if her Dina wasn’t a perfect way for Haddish to reintroduce herself. Also, props to Haddish’s Girls Trip co-stars for stepping out of the way and letting Haddish own the film. We’re going to see a lot more of Haddish from here on out. And we’re all better for it.

10. Garance Marillier  Raw
as Justine
Raw premiered at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival which means it was likely filmed in 2015, which means Marillier was 17 years old when this movie was shot. Seventeen. That’s insane. For my money, you can stack Marillier’s fearless, manic energy up against any performer from this year. 

9. Brooklynn Prince & Bria Vinaite  The Florida Project
as Moonee & Halley
Vinaite’s work as a white trash young mother was reminiscent of the types of performances Andrea Arnold is so good at capturing. I believed her every misguided decision. And Prince, my god, what strength, what command. Her final scene in this film was a masterclass of raw emotion.

8. Margot Robbie & Allison Janney  I, Tonya
as Tonya Harding & LaVona Golden
Allison Janney is always flawless, in any genre. Her vile LaVona was no exception, and if Janney’s Oscar is indeed waiting, you won’t hear any complaints from me. Margot Robbie, I believe, was still in the “prove yourself” phase of her career, and took this role (both as an actor and producer) with ferocious gusto. As far as I’m concerned, Robbie’s craft has very much been proven.

7. Jessica Chastain  Molly’s Game
as Molly Bloom
I love Jessica Chastain and I love Aaron Sorkin, and watching them work together was a great joy of 2017. I didn’t see a false note in Chastain’s Molly Bloom. She was smart, determined, and impeccably strong, but also pervious to fear and regret. Molly’s Game was two hours and 20 minutes long and I could’ve watched Chastain kill it for double that.

6. Frances McDormand  Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
as Mildred
Tough. Tough. Tough. That’s what comes through initially when watching this film. But upon revisiting Three Billboards, I found myself so shaken by Mildred’s sadness. McDormand has many stellar scenes in the film, but her violent reaction to watching the billboards burn down fucking rattled me. The way she yells, “Robbie!” My God.

5. Jennifer Lawrence  mother!
as Mother
It isn’t my desire to take anything away from Lawrence’s previous work (namely in Winter’s Bone), but what she did in mother! so wildly surpasses anything she’s done before. It’s hard to think of many actors (male and female) who would risk going where she did in this movie.

4. Lesley Manville  Phantom Thread
as Cyril
“Cyril is always right,” her brother, Reynolds (Daniel Day-Lewis) says early in Phantom Thread. That’s true of Manville’s cold yet caring work as Cyril, but also of Manville herself. This is a performer who makes big choices in every role (see her work in Mike Leigh’s films for further examples). Her main choice in Phantom Thread was to observe. She’s quiet, austere, and so very intelligent. I loved (loved, loved) Manville’s scenes with Day-Lewis. They were born to play off each other.

3. Vicky Krieps  Phantom Thread
as Alma
You get the idea very early on that famed dress maker Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) has spent a lifetime loving and discarding weak-willed women. With Alma, he meets his match. Someone who can stand up to him and match his attitude day by day, word for word. I had never heard of Krieps before seeing this film, and now I can’t get her out of my mind. Why isn’t Krieps more in the discussion for awards? She stood toe-to-toe with the best, and excelled.

2. Sally Hawkins  The Shape of Water
as Elisa
Oh, Sally. What graceful command she has on the screen. What quiet presence and reserved emotion. I’ve loved her since she played Poppy in Happy-Go-Lucky, and here, as the tender, helpful Elisa, she seriously outdid herself. She carried a big movie with big ideas on her shoulders, and she did it with utter grace. If Frances McDormand is to win the Best Actress Oscar, I won’t be complaining, but my vote would go to Hawkins. What a truly beautiful performance this was.

1. Tatiana Maslany  Stronger
as Erin Hurley
Before Stronger, I had never seen Tatiana Maslany act before. I missed her Emmy-winning work in Orphan Black (which I must now correct), as well as her dozens of other performances. But as I sat and watched Stronger, I simply could not believe how strong her performance was. Erin is a woman who would not back down under any circumstance. She spoke her mind and she spoke her truth, with complete and utter power. 

There’s a scene in Stronger, and it should be one of the scenes of the year, in which Erin’s boyfriend, Jeff (Jake Gyllenhaal), has his bandages removed following an amputation. The scene is captured in one shot, entirely from Jeff’s point of view. But in the middle of the scene, as Jeff wails out in agony, Maslany’s face slowly comes into frame, getting right next to Gyllenhaal’s face. The camera doesn’t find Maslany, she finds the camera. I can’t explain it, but the way Maslany entered the frame in that moment was one of the defining film moments of 2017 for me. I literally sat upright in my seat, and watched Maslany selflessly enter the scene, and quietly take the entire movie over. Why is no one talking about this performance?. She should be in the running for every award, period. But, alas, I cannot wait to see where Maslany goes from here.

2017 in Review


  1. Great list. Very interesting number 1 choice. I never saw that one coming. I thought Stronger was a very forgettable movie, but Tatiana Maslany really stood out for me as well. Definitely looking forward to seeing her in better films from now on. And yeah, this was a really good year for female performances. This list was even harder to make than for the male performances. But i think i'm happy with this one for now:

    20. Jennifer Lawrence as Mother in mother!
    19. Aubrey Plaza as Ingrid Thorburn in Ingrid Goes West
    18. Brooklynn Prince as Moonee in The Florida Project
    17. Octavia Spencer as Zelda Fuller in The Shape of Water
    16. Elizabeth Marvel as Jean Meyerowitz in The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

    15. Anne Hathaway as Gloria in Colossal
    14. Holly Hunter as Beth in The Big Sick
    13. Tatiana Maslany as Erin Hurley in Stronger
    12. Ana de Armas as Joi in Blade Runner 2049
    11. Allison Janney as LaVona Golden in I, Tonya

    10. Elizabeth Olsen as Jane Banner in Wind River
    9. Michelle Pfeiffer as as Woman in mother!
    8. Seo-Hyeon Ahn as Mija in Okja
    7. Laurie Metcalf as Marion McPherson in Lady Bird
    6. Kristen Stewart as Maureen in Personal Shopper

    5. Margot Robbie as Tonya Harding in I, Tonya
    4. Emma Stone as Billie Jean King in Battle of the Sexes
    3. Saoirse Ronan as Christine 'Lady Bird' McPherson in Lady Bird
    2. Sally Hawkins as as Elisa Esposito in The Shape of Water
    1. Frances McDormand as Mildred in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

    Frances McDormand and Sally Hawkins were both neck and neck here. Both of them were my favorite performances of the year. I also feel Emma Stone's performance in Battle of the Sexes is very overlooked this year. It's probably my favorite performance from her since Birdman.

    1. I agree that this list was harder to make the the male counterpoint, which is great. I think Stronger let its performers down. The movie (as a movie) had nothing really interesting to say. It felt like Green just set the cameras up and told his amazing cast to do whatever they're capable of. It's a shame, because had the movie been better, the cast would be getting more attention.

      So for me, it really speaks to the strength of Maslany's work that she was able to have such a profound impact on me in such a mediocre film. I loved her work so much.

      Great list, really like your choices. Hawkins and McDormand's performances are so different, but both so remarkably well done.

  2. For me so far...

    Best Actress...

    1. Frances McDormand-Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
    2. Saoirse Ronan-Lady Bird
    3. Margot Robbie-I, Tonya
    4. Gal Gadot-Wonder Woman
    5. Vicky Krieps-Phantom Thread

    Best Supporting Actress

    1. Allison Janney-I, Tonya
    2. Laurie Metcalf-Lady Bird
    3. Lesley Manville-Phantom Thread
    4. Carrie Fisher-The Last Jedi
    5. Alison Williams-Get Out

    Honorable Mentions towards Robin Wright for Blade Runner 2049/Wonder Woman, Catherine Keener for Get Out, Tessa Thompson, Cate Blanchett, & Rachel House for Thor: Ragnarok, Marisa Tomei in Spider-Man: Homecoming, Elizabeth Olsen for Wind River, Lily James for Baby Driver, Dafne Keen for Logan, and Michelle Pfeiffer & Jennifer Lawrence for mother!. Plus, a special ensemble prize to the entire female cast of The Beguiled.

    The performances I want to see now as we're about to enter the Oscar race are Sally Hawkins/Octavia Spencer for The Shape of Water, Holly Hunter in The Big Sick, the women in The Florida Project, Diane Kruger for In the Fade, Julianne Moore in Wonderstruck, and the ladies in Girls' Night as I'm interested to see what Tiffany Haddish did in that film.

    As for Garance Marillier in Raw, she would be in my top 5 2017 Best Actress list. That film was fucked up but goddamnit, it was fucking awesome.

    1. Great work here. I am quickly becoming a huge admirer of Tessa Thompson's, so I need to check out Thor: Ragnarok ASAP. Love that the women from Phantom Thread made your respective lists, they were so quiet and strong.

  3. After just finding out Jennifer Lawrence has been nominated as Worst Actress as the Razzies I'm so glad to see her in this list! The movie might not be amazing but she sure was.

    1. Yeah they're so stupid. By nominating mother!, the Razzies did exactly what they intended to do, which was get people to talk about them (which we rarely ever do). It's the same group that nominated Scarface, Body Double, The Last Temptation of Christ and The Shining. Oh so silly. But thanks so much for the comment!

  4. Great list! I'm glad you gave a shout out to Garance Marillier.

    Lawrence was amazing in mother! The Razzies can fuck right off.

    1. Thanks! Yes, they certainly can. Like I said to Allie, the only reason they nominated mother! was to get people to talk about them, which has happened. It's smart marketing, but bullshit standards.

      Marillier ROCKS!

  5. Dude. Just...thank you. Tatiana Maslany is seriously, I hate to even throw this over-used word around here, a fucking REVELATION. She is well up there towards the top if not the top of my list. You said exactly why, and I gotta give props to David Gordon Green and Sean Bobbitt for really working all those tough emotional scenes visually. It's a very well shot, subdued, very human picture that could've easily ventured into grandstanding patriotic blah. The restraint in the direction in that way is great. The performances are allowed to carry it through.

    Love the love for Phantom Thread and mother! Two films I'll never get out (nor want out) of my head. Krieps blew me away, and Lawrence is straight fire in mother! Brave ass work! Brooklynn Prince broke my heart in that last scene. And Laurie and Saoirse!! Great great list!

    1. YES! You liked Stronger a bit more than me, but the performances were universally excellent, and Maslany was incredible.

      Lawrence really went balls to the wall. She held absolutely nothing back and delivered (to me) what is by far her best work. It's just so insane! Thanks so much for the comment.

  6. All I wanna say is that Ana de Armas should have been nominated for Blade Runner 2049. She pretty much steals the show.

    1. Armas is a talent whose work I've really enjoyed watching these past few years. I was surprised how much I liked Knock Knock (including her performance), and then there's Hands of Stone, War Dogs and now 2049. She's really damn good in Blade Runner.

  7. I really loved that shot in Stronger you are writing about. Tatiana was great in the role and imho was far more deserving than someone like Spencer who is good but does the same thing she did before in both her previously nominated - including one awarded - performances. I'd love for Robbie to win but sadly it's not going to happen.

    1. Yes, far more. No question. I also agree with your assessment of Spencer's last few roles (I wonder if I'm the only one who maintains her best work was in Fruitvale Station?). I would LOVE for Robbie to win as well. I wouldn't be mad at that in the slightest. But I think the Academy will look at her as "too young" to award. Who the hell knows. Trying to figure out the Academy's collective thinking is impossible.

    2. I think the collective thinking of the Academy manifested itself in "was the hot merman make up or VFX we cannot decide so let's vote either for this or that and the votes cancel each other". Otherwise it would be 14.


      I'm not that pressed though I just want 1. decent livestream of the ceremony in my shithole so I can fangirl in peace 2. Rockwell winning 3. me sobering up and stopping smiling so that I can be at work on Tuesday after exploding all over the place on 4th and 5th of March

    3. I want all those things too. In the meantime, it'd be great to go on Twitter and not see dozens of people bitching about Sam's work, because they don't understand that depiction does NOT equal endorsement.

  8. I haven't seen as many of the oscar hopefuls as you. Agree Jennifer Lawrence and Margot Robbie gave best-of-the-year performances.

    Another female performance that impressed me in 2017 (and isn't talked about enough) is Eili Harboe in Thelma

    1. Damnit, I really need to see Thelma. Thanks for the reminder on that one, I keep forgetting to track it down!

  9. LOVE this list. So many included definitely made mine. Great to see Tatiana Maslany getting some love. I would have to add Haley Lu Richardson for "Columbus". She blew me away.

    1. Thanks man! So happy to hear you're a fan of Maslany's work as well. And I need to see Columbus!

  10. Love so many of your choices, Alex. I still need to catch up with Stronger which, perhaps wrongly, I dismissed as feel-good Oscar bait not worth my $8-10.

    It's a shame Jessica Chastain and Hong Chau's otherwise wonderful performances were stuck in films with iffy scripts that underperformed at the box office. Chau, in particular, was one of my favorites of the year.

    If you saw Inherent Vice--which I'm sure you have--Chau turned in a memorable performance as Jade, the manager of the "massage parlor" out in the middle of nowhere. I'm excited to see where she goes from here after two distinctive performances that called upon altogether different skill sets.

    I just pushed out my end of year lists if you want to check them out:

    1. Hey there, thanks for the comment! I too dismissed Stronger when it first came out. But when I watched it on iTunes, I was fucking floored by Maslany's work. She elevates that role from the loving/supporting girlfriend side character to a woman with her own thoughts, ambitions and motivations. She's the best part of the movie, no question.

      I really wish Chastain and Chau got nominated. And yes! After seeing Downsizing, I remembered Chau was in Inherent Vice. Her accent in Downsizing was so good, I didn't even recignize her.

  11. I've never seen Maslany but now I'm very curious about her. I was wondering what happened with Stronger... When they announced the filming of the movie everybody was talking about how this role could take Gyllenhaal close to a new Academy Award nomination (being a biopic, etc). I haven't seen it yet, now I've been reminded of its existence thanks to your post.

    Haven't seen the rest of the performances (I'm specially curious about Lawrence's role, hope to see the movie soon and I adore Chastain and Mara so I hope I can see their films asap too) but I just saw Personal Shopper and I loved the film and Stewart was amazing! I haven't seen Clouds of... but I think this performance was really impressive, I've always liked her but the way she acted so scared and sad while she was on the train, for instance, and the way she trembled reminded me of some of young Jodie Foster's performances. Hope she gets more award recognition in the future, she deserves it. And the film was really special, liked it a lot.

    1. Ohhh I love how you compared Stewart's work in that film to Foster's work. That is spot on. Personal Shopper was such a gem of a film. I need to buy that Criterion and watch it again actually. Loved it.

      I would LOVE to hear your thoughts on some of these films and performances, particularly mother!, which is on another level in every way.

      As for Stronger... to me, it felt like the people involved (meaning the director and Gyllenhaal) assumed that the horror of the real life event would motivate people to see the film. As in, the event was so tragic and sensational, of course people will see the movie. And in assuming that, they failed to make a strong movie. They did get some stellar performances, but the performances deserve to be in a better film. Maslany is absolutely astounding in the film, but she deserved a better overall movie.

  12. There are still a lot of female performances that I have not watched yet but here's my list:

    1. Haley Lu Richardson in "Columbus"
    2. Laurie Metcalf in "Lady Bird"
    3. Jennifer Lawrence in "mother!"
    4. Margot Robbie in "I, Tonya"
    5. Kim Min Hee in "On the Beach at Night Alone"
    6. Hong Chau in "Downsizing"
    7. Maggie Siff in "A Woman, A Part"
    8. Frances Macdormand in "Three Billboards"
    9. Paula Beer in "Frantz"
    10. Saoirse Ronan in "Lady Bird"
    11. Salma Hayek in "Beatriz at Dinner"
    12. Marya Spivak in "Loveless"
    13. Briane Vaton in "The Florida Project"
    14. Allison Janney in "I, Tonya"
    15. Tiffany Haddish in "Girls Trip"

    Would watch Phantom Thread, Battle of the Sexes, The Post, Raw, Personal Shopper, Lady Macbeth, In the Fade, and A Fantastic Woman soon so the entire list would probably change.

    1. Great stuff. And there is a lot I still have to see as well. No list like this is every fully complete, you know? Thanks so much for sharing yours. I need to see Columbus!